Back to top

The Public Defender’s Office (PDO) and its role in Singapore’s Legal Landscape

What does it mean to provide criminal defence aid to the lower echelons of society? Who are the Public Defenders? Why do Public Defenders do what they do despite possible public questioning over the nature of the cases they handle?

On December 2022, the PDO was set up under the Ministry of Law with the aim of enhancing access to justice through the provision of criminal defence aid to those who cannot afford legal representation. Our students from the School of Law had the pleasure of learning about the PDO’s work and the role it plays in Singapore’s legal landscape from Chief Public Defender, Mr Wong Kok Weng, who oversees the PDO and Public Defender, Mr Mohamed Sarhan. 

Mr Wong sharing about the PDO’s work with students from SUSS School of Law

Besides touching on the scope of the PDO’s work, both Mr Wong and Mr Mohamed Sarhan also shared their personal perspectives, including why they find meaning in their work at the PDO. When asked about how they cope with the emotional and mental load of cases handled by the PDO, both Mr Wong and Mr Mohamed Sarhan candidly shared their coping mechanisms with the students.

Q&A session with Mr Wong (middle) and Mr Mohamed Sarhan (right), moderated by Mr Alexander Woon, Lecturer, SUSS School of Law (left)

Reflecting on the session, Wilson Chew, a Year 3 SUSS School of Law Juris Doctor (JD) student shared, “Public Defenders play a meaningful role in advocating for the less fortunate impacted by the criminal legal system and Singapore has an exceptional Chief Public Defender, Mr Wong Kok Weng. It was an honour to meet Mr Wong during his visit to SUSS Law School.

The Chief Public Defender during the Q&A session was kind enough to reply to Wilson’s question on the suited profile of a lawyer for the role of a Public Defender, “...a love for the practice of criminal law fused with a passion to defend the impecunious”, he responded. Mr Mohamed Sarhan, another strong Public Defender who was also present, brought legs to Mr Wong’s words by adding, “My work is meaningful, and I am sensitive to those we serve. Much as I feel for the accused to whom I defend, I feel for the victim too”.

new image_cropped
Mr Chew (standing), posing his questions to the panellists during the Q&A session.

“Two things remain etched in my mind from Mr Wong and Mr Mohamed Sarhan’s visit. Firstly, justice is about balance in all senses of the word, even for one who may have done wrong. Secondly, and more importantly, being a lawyer is a special calling to an honourable profession”, Wilson Chew added.

Fellow Year 4 SUSS School of Law Juris Doctor (JD) student, Netto Tan shared, “I have always been profoundly drawn towards the realm of criminal law. Consequently, joining the PDO has always been among the career paths I've contemplated on. The session turned out to be incredibly enjoyable as I found myself easily comprehending the content they shared and the job scopes of the Public Defenders. Furthermore, the Chief Public Defender had brought a Public Defender with him, and he was given an opportunity to share his experiences at the PDO. This additional perspective was immensely helpful in broadening my understanding of what it's like to work as a Public Defender. It was a delightful experience, and I am sincerely thankful for the opportunity to hear from Mr Wong and Mr Mohamed Sarhan.”

Back to top